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(New York) - The new Hungarian constitution approved by parliament contains provisions that could lead to discrimination, Human Rights Watch said today. President Pál Schmitt should send the constitution back to Parliament to address these and other human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said.

The proposed constitution was passed on April 18, 2011, by a vote of 262 to 44, with 1 abstention. It includes provisions that could lead to discrimination against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

"The ruling Fidesz members of Parliament pushed through a constitution that puts Hungary at odds with its obligation to uphold and respect human rights," said Amanda McRae, a Western Balkans researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The president needs to use his authority to fix this fundamental document before it becomes law and enshrines discrimination."

In a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on April 15, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about provisions in the constitution that put the rights of people with disabilities, women, and LGBT people at risk, including:

  • Restrictions on the right to vote for people with "limited mental ability." This is likely to exclude many people with intellectual or mental disabilities from political participation, contrary to Hungary's human rights obligations as a party to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
  • A right to life for the fetus from the moment of conception. This could lead to efforts to overturn Hungary's abortion law and result in restrictions on abortion that would put a number of fundamental rights for women at stake; and
  • A definition of marriage as between a man and a woman while implying that a family based on marriage is the only type protected by the state. This denies LGBT people access to state protection for their families and relationships, and is inconsistent with Hungary's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union Charter on Fundamental Rights.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned that civil society and opposition groups in Hungary were largely excluded from the process of drafting and reviewing the constitution. Numerous groups in and outside of Hungary called for essential changes and more time to debate and review the document, but the constitution, which was introduced for public debate in mid-March, passed the Parliament with few changes only a month later.

A new constitution requires the president's signature to go into effect. President Schmitt is expected to sign it on April 25. However, under the current Hungarian constitution, (article 26) the president has the authority to refer a law or provisions with which he disagrees, along with his comments, back to the Parliament for reconsideration.

Human Rights Watch called on Schmitt to use this authority to ensure that the human rights concerns raised by Human Rights Watch and other groups are addressed.

"The process of drafting and passing the constitution was rushed and effectively excluded those who might have offered a different viewpoint," McRae said. "This raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the document."

The adoption of this new constitution comes in the midst of a number of other human rights concerns in Hungary. In recent months, a new law went into effect that restricts media freedom; vigilante groups have attacked and held demonstrations against Roma, with little government condemnation of such actions; and concerns have been raised about the treatment of asylum seekers and other migrants in Hungary, including those who are pushed back to Ukraine from the Hungarian border and face abuse in Ukrainian detention.

"The Hungarian government's commitment to human rights has already been called into serious question because of the deeply negative trends in media freedoms and the rights of minorities and migrants," McRae said. "If it goes through as is, the new constitution would add state-sanctioned discrimination against women, LGBT people, and people with disabilities to the list of human rights concerns."

Although civil society and opposition groups have questioned the need for a new constitution, members of the ruling party Fidesz, which currently holds a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, have said that a new constitution is necessary to finish the transition from communism to democracy. The current Hungarian constitution dates from 1949 but was significantly amended in 1989 following the collapse of communism in Hungary.

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